A shul scared of its members

By Miriam Shaviv, September 4, 2008

So the interim chief executive of the United Synagogue has, temporarily at least, overruled his rabbis, who recently recommended that laymen should be allowed to deliver eulogies at funerals. At stake, he said, was a procedural issue: the Rabbinical Council did not consult the Beth Din and Chief Rabbi about the change.

But there seems to be a deeper problem. The US leaders seem to be afraid of their members. Laymen - that's you and I - cannot be trusted to speak sensibly. While Israeli and American Jews, including Orthodox ones, can give hespedim freely, Anglo-Jewry's US members must be muzzled, lest we embarrass anyone.
The (radical) parallel is with China, where the authorities gave away Olympic tickets to their own officials to prevent regular citizens attending and protesting against the regime. They too are afraid of the masses.

But while this may work in a dictatorship, it is a losing strategy for the US. As our letters bag consistently shows, US members wish to be treated as mature adults. By treating them instead as children, the US is not only missing a positive opportunity to encourage involvement with religious rituals, it is needlessly alienating people who can choose to daven elsewhere. The rabbis - who are in daily contact with the grassroots - realise this. It is time those further up the US hierarchy accepted that congregants are not a threat, but the real owners of one of Anglo-Jewry's finest institutions.


BBC's taliban bias

Two weeks ago, I argued that properly to understand the BBC's attitude to Israel, one had to look at its wider political orientation.

Just days later, its former Jerusalem correspondent Lyse Doucet was quoted in the Telegraph saying that "it may sound odd", but what was missing in the coverage of Afghanistan was "the humanity of the Taliban, because the Taliban are a wide, very diverse group of people".

Well, "odd" is one way of putting it - "repulsive" another. The Taliban prevented women from working or receiving an education, blackened houses' windows so that women would not be visible from outside, demolished the Bamiyan Buddhas, and banned music. It is still fighting the West. Yet Ms Doucet seems to be an apologist for these jihadist brutes. With these sympathies, would you trust her to report fairly on Islam, Israel or the Middle East?

‘kosher' railway

Israel's Rabbinical Transportation Committee strikes again. First, it asked women to sit at the back of the bus; next, it told Charedim not to use airlines that showed movies on a central screen. And now, it opposes Jerusalem's light-rail project, because "the goal of forcing the ultra-Orthodox community to use the light train constitutes a severe spiritual danger".

The main problem? The light rail may render some of the gender-segregated bus routes in the capital unnecessary, and force their cancellation. At the moment, the committee is asking ministers to re-route the track away from Charedi neighbourhoods. But mark my words. It is only a matter of time before the campaign begins for separate men and women's carriages...

Romain in trouble

Rabbi Romain seems to have angered many of his Reform colleagues with his latest faith-school initiative. But a quick dip into our archives shows that he has, in the past, made waves even closer to home. A call in October 1997 to commemorate the Holocaust on Tisha b'Av, not Yom Hashoah, resulted in a letter to the JC from none other than his wife, Rabbi Sybil Sheridan. The proposal, she wrote, had precedent. However, "the timing of Rabbi Romain's remarks is unfortunate. While there are yet Shoah survivors, and children of those who perished, an actual Yahrzeit is a necessity... One cannot mix a living event with those who are long gone."

Must have been one hell of a Friday-night dinner that week. Rabbi Sheridan, we are saving you a slot on our next letters page, should you wish to weigh in again.



Last updated: 10:28am, June 24 2009